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Gay rights blown off

April 01, 1998
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Gays in Missouri will have to wait at least one more year to recieve civil rights.

Rep. Brian May, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said a bill to designate gays, lesbians and transsexuals as protected groups probably won't make it to a vote in committee.

"I don't think there's a sufficient number of committee members who support it," May said.

He said there was no reason to bring the bill to a vote just to have it defeated.

State statutes currently protect people based on race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sex, handicap or familial status. The law prohibits discrimination based solely on these characteristics in terms of employment and housing.

Supporters of the proposal never expected it to get anywhere. Jeff Wunrow, the executive director of a gay rights group, said his main goal this year was to educate lawmakers about the issue.

"I think the legislators on the committee were very receptive, very attentive," Wunrow said.

Kerry Messer, director of a group supporting traditional family values, said he believes that the supporters of this bill have exaggerated the need to protect homosexuals with a law.

"I don't deny that some people are fired because they're homosexual but people are fired everyday for all kinds of reasons," Messer said.

Messer said homosexuals don't meet the historic tests for a group needing protection. They don't have an immutable characteristic, aren't economically disadvantaged as a group and aren't politically powerless.

State law already protects religion which doesn't meet any of these requirements.

Messer has admittedly tried to fight what he felt was discrimination against himself based on his ideology.

Tuesday Messer told the House committee that he had been fired from a job because he of his efforts to shut down adult bookstores. In response he filed a civil suit against his employer.

Lori Shurtleff, an attorney specializing in labor issues, said the law places an "extraordinarily heavy burden" of proof on the plaintiffs in discrimination cases.

"You have to show that a member of a protected class was treated differently from other employees not in that protected group," Shurtleff said.

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